NOTES STILL KINDA SCRAPPY
the huddle of huts where the some-time Stair porters lived.
No amenities, so camping, but the simple young men of the camp-village have a tented booth with a couple of hogsheads of ale, and there’s drinking at a couple of the campfires.
Camp set. All happy to mingle with the locals.
Impressed with anyone who comes this way, only well armed and courageous merchants. Yngwi knew he could be sure to entertain them with a tale or two, but thought to lift their spirits with a song. [TOR: His Speciality of Storytelling could have guaranteed a regular success.] He strikes up on his lyre and gives them a song, but their claps are only polite, uninspired.
Marion strikes up with a song of Beorn’s leading a goblin-slaying escapade in the Misty Mountains (Yngwi improvising an accompaniment on his hand-drum) and this is far more like it.
Later on, as Fjiar’s prying Toki’s hands from Thorfinn’s purse strings to offer ale all round and instigating contests of arm-wrestling, two of the young men usher old Nerulf to the fire and seat him beside Marion.
Prompted by Fjiar, Toki asks after Framleiðandi, saying that they’re heading south into the marshes. Only party through here anything like recently was a group of seven dwarves heading off on a trade prospect to the Sea of Rhûn.
Old Nerulf says — an ancient-looking decrepit Northman, hardly intelligible when he speaks, but when told that the companions are heading south he repeats to Marion over and over again what seems some words of warning or rhyme of lore he learned when he was a child:
“If you go south in the marshes take heed: tread lightly and fear the gallows-weed…”
All of this was in Dalish. Ecthelon could tell that it was a Northron tongue, but Marion understood it well enough to translate for him.
Ecthelon: detects a fragmentary rhyme of lore, even if its pedigree is only a lifespan or so of men. Every word likely to have import.
In fact, wracking his memory, he became sure that gallow-weed is the mannish name for a certain plant that grows downward from flat-spreading boughs, only in wetland areas of the forest, and mostly in the south: only where touched by the Shadow.
Next morning, boat onto open frame wagon and down the trackway with its carved wheel-courses like the dwarves knew from mine tunnels.
Below them the flat and fenny land blanketed in deep fog, but burning away in the morning sun so that before they reached the bottom they could see the river stretching out before them, fractured into a hundred interweaving courses.
At the bottom Ecthelon bade one youth take a silver farthing for Nerulf, as a token of thanks.
Ecthelon moved to the prow to watch for submerged hazards and spot out the best route. Fjiar to the helm, following his directions. At times it took Fjiar a major effort to avoid becoming grounded on mudbanks invisible in the murky water, even with the long poles he’d had the forethought to cut. Everyone was appreciative of his efforts.
Yngwi and Marion scouting and hunting upon sandbanks and islands on either side as they proceeded. Couldn’t possibly quarter the whole marsh, but could stay alert for signs.
Yngwi found a broken arrow-shaft in a marsh-alder, snapped off a hand’s breadth behind the arrowhead that was so deeply embedded that it took him some time with his knife to carve it free. Fjiar pronounced the arrowhead to be unminstakably of fine dwarven steel.
Late in the day, Marion spots soot-stains up the bark of a tall willow-stump and finds the site of a campfire and the neatly-stacked bones of a marsh-deer, bearing the blade-marks of skilled butchery.
Camp in the open, before the river plunged into the dark wall of the forest of Mirkwood now only a mile or two distant.
Yngwi sticking at the poem and (INTRODUCE EARLIER:) map, trying to identify the area of Mirkwood to which they should travel, convinced despite Ecthelon’s rejection that the poem must be intended as literal directions.
Next day, onward, into the forest, where all sounds of natural life were stilled. No birdsong, nor even the buzz of marsh insects could be heard in the eerie silence.
Marion found the site of a recently felled tree, dead not greenwood. Fjiar confidently pronounced the cuts to have been made at a dwarf’s height rather than that of a man or an elf. (Demonstrates with a swing of Falcon.) A search of the immediate area soon turned up a campsite that looked to have been used for quite a while. Gutters had been carved in the loam on three sides of a space the size of a one- or two-man tent, drag-marks on a bank showed where a boat had been drawn up; though the rain had softened everything in the time since. Regarding the camp-hearth lined with stones brought from who-knew-where, Fjiar said he knew dwarven firecraft when he saw it.
This was surely Framleiðandi, and if he had a boat then he could hardly have smuggled it unnoticed past the porters at the Stair of Girion. He must have passed through in the company of the dwarves travelling further downriver.
Tracking from the campsite, Ecthelon identified a route along dry land which someone had used repeatedly for up to a mile — though it was less travelled the further it went, suggesting a search pattern fanning out all along the route.
Out on this trail, Ec caught sight of a wood elf flitting along parallel to his course. Stepping smartly out of range of his companions he warily approached, and an elf stood out from behind a tree trunk. Bow held low and unthreatening, he nevertheless had his hand out in admonishment.
Soft he demanded what business Ec had here in this tract of Mirkwood, in the company of dwarves. Clearely a touchy subject; Ec recognized Galion the former butler/winekeeper of King Thranduil; dwarf- and hobbit-hater since the escape of Thorin Oakenshield and company from the halls of the Wood-elf king. Three other archers made up his group.
Ec said that he and the dwarves were seeking another dwarf, who they believed was searching for the mythical ‘Mewlips’, and — laconically — if it was any consolation, the ancient rhyme described such searches as leading to a dark fate.
Galion declared that he had never heard of ‘Mewlips’, and confirmed Ecthelon’s belief that there were no creatures in this march of the forest that might warrant such a name. But he confirmed that there had been a crazy lone dwarf in the area a few weeks ago, acting like he was searching for something. Galion consented to lead Ecthelon to the place where this dwarf had had his last camp before he disappeared — which had not concerned Galion in the slightest. This camp was a few hours southwards on foot; he would not tarry for straggling dwarves who could not keep up, and returning for their boat would be their own affair.
Ecthelon trotted back to the others and told them to strike camp in haste and bring only the essentials with them, as party of wood-elves were leading the way to where they’d last seen Framleiðandi, but they weren’t waiting for stragglers.
Marion moved swiftly to Ecthelon’s side, and the two looked back in some dismay as the three dwarves identified a keg of ale as a travel essential and were proceeding to lash it to two of Fjiar’s long poles in order to carry it between them.
“We can’t trust the water in this place!” puffed Fjiar as he and Yngwi jogged after the others, with Toki alongside the keg itself trying to steady its jouncing.
The wood-elves pulled far ahead, and the Company from Dale were soon strung out in the darkling forest, their fraught haste preventing all hope of retaining their bearings and leaving them defenceless against any peril their unseen guides might fail to protect them from. did not. The simple weight of the keg was something they could sustain all day, but it was a struggle for Yngwi and Fjiar to maintain a matched pace as the way led over gnarled tree-roots and splashing through mud-choked creeks. I HAVE TO RETCON HERE: THIS IS WORTH -3 ENDURANCE, DOUBLED IF YOU FAIL AN ATHLETICS vs TN:12, AND ACCRUING 2 FATIGUE IF YOU ROLL AN ‘EYE’. SO YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN A ROPIER STATE THAT NIGHT THAN WE’D PORTRAYED.
[BUT AFTER A ~HALF-HOUR REST YOU GOT YOUR HEART-SCORE’S WORTH OF ENDURANCE BACK, AND AFTER THE NIGHT’S KIP YOU GOT THE REST OF YOUR END BACK. SO ONLY SOMEONE GETTING AN EYE WOULD STILL BE DOWN BY MORNING. THE END OF THE
The beams of sunlight filtering through the dark canopy slanted up till they no longer reached the forest floor, then faded, and then were gone. The company jogged the last hour in complete darkness within the forest. Fjiar efficiently struck spark to tinder and handed Toki a torch to hold up to light their steps, but they remained largely dependent on the elvensight of Ecthelon, and slumped down at the end inwardly glad that the ordeal was over.
“Who’s for a jack of ale?” quipped a breathless Fjiar.
“It was good stuff last night, a heady brew with a notes of fruit; I hope it travels well,” said Toki.
100 paces from the campsite Marion found a place where a small boat had been repeatedly dragged out of the water and ‘beached’.
Fjiar: “Elves could have let us boat our way in.”
Now long gone. they’d said to Ec that Fram had not been seen back here in the last three weeks, nor anywhere within a day’s ranging.
(They spent as little time as they might in this area ‘for the obvious reasons’ — MIRKWOOD-LORE accounting for this by the proximity to the Shadow-reeking Mountains of Mirkwood.)